The progressive community is mourning the results of the election.
As a progressive community, we are devastated by the victory of a Presidential candidate who opposes our vision of a more democratic, more egalitarian, more inclusive, and more sustainable society.
While we obviously face difficult times ahead, we must not succumb to despair or passivity. We know the dangers that lie ahead. A reckless candidate who made outlandish promises about an instantly revitalized economy is likely to double down on divisive racist policies. It is also probably that like other authoritarian populists, Trump will turn to foreign adventures to mobilize patriotic support. It will require sustained activism and great political courage to resist this agenda and to protect and defend democratic rights that will be under renewed assault.
But we also need to keep our eye on the prize of developing an engaged and critical social science. Yes, people like Arlie Hochschild, Matthew Desmond, and others have given us valuable reports on the devastating impacts on working class white communities of thirty years of market fundamentalist policies. Nevertheless, it is a powerful indictment of the social science community that Trump’s victory took almost everyone by surprise. Blaming journalists and pollsters only takes us so far since they ultimately depend on more rigorous academic studies, and there simply were not enough researchers out in the field documenting the anger and dissatisfaction that led so many to put their hopes in Donald Trump. (For a shrewd analysis of right and left wing populism in both Europe and the U.S., I recommend John Judis’ new book, The Populist Explosion.)
Moreover, while there are some strong planks in the Democratic Party platform, it did not provide a persuasive plan for rebuilding the economy that could compete with Trump’s protectionist promises. This is not so much a knock on Clinton’s campaign as an acknowledgment that progressives in both Europe and the U.S. still have not hammered together a politically feasible vision for the future. We have of course, important elements of such a vision, but there is still much work to do, and this is an urgent task for academic progressives.
Building the Center for Engaged Scholarship is even more urgent and more necessary today than it was last week. The Center aspires to be an intergenerational pact to bring together academics of the New Left generation, mid-career scholars, and graduate students who are mostly in their twenties and thirties. While the political experiences and issue emphases differ across these generations, we share much in common, especially our outrage at deepening inequality. Our fellowship program is our initial mechanism for supporting younger scholars, but in the future, we hope to broaden these support efforts. Building stronger bridges linking generations of progressive scholars is necessary if we are to produce the engaged scholarship and the progressive change that this society needs. So after we mourn, we must return to the work of engaged scholarship and continue to organize.